It’s the season for school picnics, and the grounds outside CIDCO Bhavan in Belapur could well have been mistaken for a popular picnic spot yesterday, with 700 uniformed school children swarming the area, soaking up the sun and chomping on their vada pavs.
For most of the kids, it was no less than a day trip - dragged out of their classrooms by their teachers for a day and promised attendance for adding strength in numbers to the ongoing protests being waged by Project Affected People (PAP) of Navi Mumbai. A quick pop quiz, however, made it clear that they had very little idea about what they were agitating for.
Ignorance is bliss
Most of the school and college students were from institutions situated in the project-affected areas - Changu Kana Thakur High School and College in New Panvel, Sri Chhatrapati Shivaji Vidyalaya in Gavhan, Damaji Ganpat Govari Vidyalaya and Sushma Patil Vidyalaya in Kamothe, to name a few. Most of them were blissfully oblivious about the exact nature of the protests that they were agitating for.
They had been brought to the agitation by the teachers and administrators of their schools. Akshay Gaikar, a Std XI student of one of the schools, said, “We have been told that there’s an andolan taking place outside CIDCO Bhavan, but the main issue for the agitation was not explained to us. We were leaving for home when our teachers asked us to join the agitation.”
Devendra Patil, another student from a school in Kamothe, said, “We have been told that there are a few demands of PAPs which need to be fulfilled, and hence we need to go and sit in protest outside CIDCO Bhavan.” Asked about the specific demands that he had just waged a protest for, the boy was clueless. Komal Paringe, a Std IX student from a village in Wahal in Panvel taluka, was seen delivering an eloquent speech on stage in ostensible support for the issue, but when confronted by this correspondent, she was not able to pinpoint the exact cause of the protest. “We have come here so that the demands of the Project Affected People are met,” is all she could summon up.
When the teachers of different schools were quizzed about why they brought the students to the protest without explaining the nature of the demands to them, they insisted that was not the case. Sagar Kohli, a Physical Training (PT) teacher from Sushma Patil Vidyalaya in Kamothe, said that the juniors had chosen to add strength to the campaign as many had lost their own plots. “I stay in Gavhan and have lost a lot of my plots in Kharghar. I am here to get justice and other students are also here to show support for the same cause.”
Protest over exams?
The school authorities seemed to have gone to great lengths to suspend regular school activities so the children could crowd the protest grounds. In fact, one school in Gavhan had an oral exam scheduled yesterday, but decided to postpone it so the students could flock to the rally instead. “These are school-level exams and can be conducted over a period of eight days. We therefore decided to postpone the exams for a later date as we believe that this protest is much more important,” said Randhave SS, an English teacher from the school. Asked why the students had not been briefed about the cause for the agitation, Pushpalata Thakur, a Hindi teacher from the same school said, “A lot of the children seated here in the crowd have lost their own lands. Had we not brought them here today, they would not be able to fight for their rights tomorrow.”
Most of the school authorities claimed that they had taken the consent of the students’ parents before making them attend the demonstration. Kamothe resident Haridas Gowari, father of a Std X student said, “We were informed about our child being taken for the agitation at CIDCO Bhavan. We have ourselves lost our land and hence did not mind our son joining the demonstration.” Vada pav and bottled water were doled out to the students, who were seen chatting and laughing as they sat through the proceedings. One school was even seen recording the attendance of students who were present at the demonstration.
Political leaders supporting the agitation gave the ready explanation that they wanted the students to be brought to the rally so that they could have a better understanding of the cause that their parents are fighting for. Panvel MLA Prashant Thakur said, “We are pressing for 21 demands, which include reservation for PAPs in CIDCO projects, allotment of 12.5% of land to PAPs who are yet to receive it and civic amenities in villages. You really cannot expect these young children to know everything in detail and have to understand that they are just students.”
Dashrat Bhagat, Congress Committee president for Navi Mumbai district, said that the cause that they are presently fighting for would ultimately benefit the children. “A majority of the students who have come here today are children of project affected persons. We are fighting for them. It is they who will benefit, at the end of the day. Unless they participate in the andolan, how would they understand what their family has lost? Seeing this demonstration, they will be enthused to know more about what their parents are going through.”